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Seminary presidents say thanks, pledge innovations in ministry

ATLANTA (BP)–Expressing deep gratitude to Southern Baptists, presidents of the six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries pledged to continue grounding students in biblical truth while equipping them for innovative ministry in the future.
“Your six seminaries are committed to the distinctives of the Southern Baptist Convention and we will be faithful to the covenant we made with our local churches,” said Kenneth S. Hemphill, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Forth Worth, Texas, as he introduced the seminaries’ report to messengers attending the convention’s annual meeting in Atlanta June 15.
Hemphill reported cumulative enrollment at the seminaries totals nearly 10,600 students, representing a 4.8 percent increase over the previous year. Currently serving as chairman of the Council of Seminary Presidents, Hemphill said SBC seminaries are implementing new ways to train church leaders, exploring new areas of ministry and developing new methods to reach future generations.
A video showcasing each of the six seminaries highlighted some of the new ways seminaries are responding to specific ministry needs of local churches, including increased use of technology, new study centers and degree programs, mentoring programs between students and faculty, increased attention paid to practical ministry and development of more extension centers.
Such changes are important, the seminaries’ video said, because the world has become a new global community in which information can be transmitted across continents to new generations of people with entirely new spiritual needs than in the past.
Citing the Old Testament passage of Ezra 7:10, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., said the convention’s oldest seminary has a renewed sense of study, practice and teaching in equipping future ministers.
“Under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the mission of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is to be totally committed to the Bible as the Word of God,” Mohler said, “and to be a servant of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention by training, educating and preparing ministers of the gospel for more faithful service.”
In light of this commitment, Mohler said the seminary will continue to be a school of evangelical conviction, a school of confession and accountability, a school committed to the SBC and its churches and a school committed to excellence in academics, scholarship and service to Christ.
Mohler said Southern’s enrollment has grown to more than 2,400 students, 700 of whom are new students on campus.
“That is a remarkable sign of stewardship you have entrusted to us and a sign of God’s blessing,” Mohler said. “Graduates of Southern Seminary are making a difference around the world, and that is due to God’s sovereign grace to us and through this convention and its churches.”
Calling Southwestern Seminary the “global seminary,” Hemphill announced that for the first time the People’s Republic of China recently approved an international student visa for a Southwestern applicant. Seminary officials believe Rachel Zhang is among the first students from the communist country to be given a student visa to attend a Christian seminary in the United States.
Hemphill also said 15 professors from Cuba will receive training at Southwestern beginning June 30 as part of a “historic agreement” with the Baptist Theological Seminary R.A. Ocana in Havana.
Through innovative methods like an Islamic studies center, more than 20 degree programs and extensive internship and mentoring programs, Hemphill said Southwestern is working to prepare Christians for ministry “in a rapidly changing America.”
“God is opening doors for us into the Muslim world, the atheistic communist world and our ever-changing American culture,” Hemphill said.
Acknowledging the role Southern Baptists play in helping Southwestern fulfill its purpose, Hemphill said, “As you continue to partner with us, know that you can do so with great confidence that we share your passion for winning the world to Christ.”
William O. Crews, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, Calif., noted the vast geography and cultural diversity of the western United States are the primary reasons Golden Gate has developed a regional campus system which operates in “the most strategically evangelistic cities of the West.”
Golden Gate operates a residential campus near San Francisco and regional campuses in southern California (Brea) and the Pacific Northwest (Vancouver, Wash.). All three offer full degree programs. Campuses in Phoenix, Ariz., and Denver currently offer partial programs. In addition, the seminary operates dozens of contextualized leadership development centers operated jointly with the North American Mission Board to provide basic ministry training in languages other than English. They are scattered throughout the western states.
The regional campus system represents a move away from centralized “main campus” theological education in an effort to link education and training more closely with local churches, Crews said. The reason for the regional campus system, he said, is context.
“Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary was birthed in 1944 not by the denomination, but by the churches for the churches of the West,” he said. “Since then, we have pursued with a passion the contextualization of ministry training that adds value to the local churches of the West. We are where God wants us to be in the West, doing what God wants us to do to train effective Christian leaders for the West.”
Crews also noted the seminary’s global missions commitment: “Golden Gate Seminary students are leading 17 teams this summer into 10 World A countries, gaining hands-on, real-time leadership training in mission settings.”
Using scenes from the movie “Field of Dreams” to begin his report, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Mark Coppenger said the school’s outlook is, “If we build it they will come.”
Although the Kansas City, Mo., seminary has plans to greatly expand its facilities, Coppenger said facilities are not primarily what the SBC’s youngest seminary hopes to build.
“We mean to build a school so wonderful that I would dream that my own sons and my own daughter would come there should they be called to the ministry,” he said.
Coppenger paid tribute to several professors from the school, including Tony Preston, a former Army mechanic and pastor who was named the 1999 teacher of the year.
“He came [when the seminary was] in a pinch to teach preaching and stayed to lead our diploma program and to teach pastoral leadership,” Coppenger said.
He also noted the more stringent academic standards, including mandatory study of biblical languages for master of divinity students. These standards resulted from a 1997 curriculum review and went into effect in the fall of 1998.
Coppenger returned to scenes from “Field of Dreams” to conclude his report, listing the names of Christians past.
“And what’s that light on the horizon cutting through the night?” he asked. “Could it be a procession of cars coming to our field of dreams? Or could it be the prairie fire of awakening? Grant it, Lord.”
Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different outcome.”
In a day when 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches are either plateaued or in decline, seminaries cannot expect to use the same formula to meet the ministry needs of the coming millennium.
Therefore, New Orleans Seminary has “reinvented seminary,” not only pushing the seminary out from the main campus to bring it closer to local churches, but also reinventing the curriculum. New master of divinity programs are based on seven competencies, including a classical foundation in Greek, Hebrew and philosophy, as well as a foundation in interpersonal relationship skills and a unique mentoring program. One of the new M.Div. programs also includes a one-year apprenticeship.
“We are going to equip our students for the world that is out there, not simply the world we wish was there,” he said.
With five more enrollment periods left in the academic year, New Orleans Seminary has enrolled roughly 2,400 students. In addition to its enrollment numbers, the seminary has tallied the results of its ministry over the last year. According to the seminary report, 768 people were led to faith in Christ by students and faculty through direct seminary programs, 347 of which were during global evangelism ministry.
Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., who also is currently president of the Southern Baptist Convention, offered a series of thank you statements to convention messengers, including:
— “Thank you, pastors, for calling out the called. If you didn’t call out the called, we would be teaching ourselves.
— “Thank you, churches, for praying for the students that you send to us and for staying up with them and supporting them along the way.”
In addition, Patterson made two specific prayer requests:
— “Pray that God would keep us close the heart of God. It is so easy … to be so academic that we let God slip away.
— “Pray that God will give us a servant’s heart and the ability to give your students a servant’s heart so that when they leave us they will not be glorified dictators but sweet servants of God willing to wash the feet of the saints.”

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